Learning to Say No

I like to say yes. When someone asks me to do something, my yes is almost automatic. I’m really good at the word yes. While agreeing to help with a favor or do something for you initially seems selfless, what I’m realizing is that saying yes when I should have said no is actually coming from a place of self-protection and even selfishness.

Yes is powerful. Yes puts me in charge. If you ask me to do something and I say yes, then I’ve created a positive interaction for us. I’m now included in whatever it is you wanted me to do. I’m now in charge of making that yes happen. Yes puts me in the driver’s seat of the situation.

Only later do I consider if I wanted to drive or even could drive. SNL had a skit this week about a thief trying to steal a classic car, and only once he was in the garage trying to drive away did everyone realize he couldn’t drive stick. He lurches around the garage for awhile to disastrous results. That’s what it feels like to be in a situation when I said yes when I should have said no.

In the moment though, I never want to say no. If I say no, I don’t know how you will react. No gives up control of the interaction. No is vulnerable. No is admitting I’m already overwhelmed, I’m already tired, I don’t have enough time. I can’t make you happy even though I want to. I am powerless.

No is telling you I can’t drive stick. Now I don’t get to be part of the heist.

But saying yes when I should have said no is really a lie. It’s me lying about what I’m able to do or what I want to do. It’s protecting my vulnerabilities, which means you don’t get to know me better. I’m denying a chance for connection and intimacy. A false yes is more interested in control than it is in connection.

And the truth always comes out. If comes out in my resentment, in my lack of follow through. It comes out in my lurching around in the garage, unable to steal the car. I’ve made the situation worse for both of us.

So I’m trying to learn to say no. And it’s a process.

First, I have to stop my automatic yeses. I have to pause and consider before I react.

Then, I have to learn to recognize the no. No, for me, feels like slight nausea and anger. I’m immediately resentful, as if you’ve told me I have to do the thing instead of asked me if I would. No doesn’t sound like no right now. It sounds like, “How dare you even ask that?” If I’m thinking that, then I need to say no.

Finally, I have to hold myself accountable to my yeses and my nos. No more saying yes in the moment and then flaking out later. If I say I’m going to do something now, I do it. And if I don’t agree to something, I don’t let myself get talked into it later.

I’m still learning. Sometimes I’m still lurching around the garage, pissed off and in trouble. But I’m recognizing that a well placed no when necessary is often much less of a problem then a false yes. It’s always better to forfeit being part of the heist than smashed in between the security doors.

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